Economic Education

Adam Smith’s Concept of Justice

by Dr. Vernon Smith

One of the best-known quotations from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776) defines natural liberty: “Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man.”

Smith inserted the condition “so long as he does not violate the laws of justice” ahead of the directive because it was central to his conception of liberty. What everyone remembers is “free to pursue his own interest,” with the last often turned into “self-interest.” But Smith’s conception of human sociality and economy—I like the word “humanomics”—was far deeper than modern utilitarianism.

Justice is the infinite set of permissible actions remaining after specifying the finite limited set of prohibited actions and corresponding penalties.

What did Smith mean by justice, and why is it so important for understanding his message? The carefully articulated answer was in his first book: The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759, pp. 78-91).Justice for Smith was the negative of his proposition on injustice, which stated that improperly motivated (that is, intentionally) hurtful actions alone deserve punishment because they are the objects of a widely shared sense of resentment.

Rules that punished in proportion to resentment emerged naturally in pre-civil society as a means of defense only against real positive evil and to secure innocence and safeguard justice.

Hence, justice is a residual. Justice is the infinite set of permissible actions remaining after specifying the finite limited set of prohibited actions and corresponding penalties.

Imagine a large playing field in which people explore, discover, and innovate, but with well-defined foul boundaries that people are not to breach without penalty; these boundaries will change, based on consent, with experience, culture, and technology.

Smith saw society as seeking human socio-economic betterment through the control of actions that our common experience leads us to judge as hurtful rather than through collective actions designed to achieve future conjectured benefits. The latter is uncertain and fraught with unintended consequences; moreover, history is littered with examples of grandiose failures. The former relies on natural impulses for individuals and assemblies to pursue betterment, risking only their own resources; this framework led him to oppose slavery, colonialism, empire, mercantilism, and taxation without representation at a time when such views were unpopular.

His policy views derive from his belief that every person’s socio-economic achievements should depend as much as possible on merit and as little as possible on privilege.

Reprinted from the Independent Institute

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Everyone Loves This Book But Who Has Actually Read it?

After years of avoiding Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, I have decided to dedicate the next sixteen days to liveblogging each chapter.
 

I have never actually completed F.A. Hayek’s, The Road to Serfdom. I am completely comfortable admitting that. Still, like many who are intrigued with Hayek’s ideas but lack the willpower to read the entire book, I alway list The Road to Serfdom as one of my most influential readings.

To be sure, I had read the few chapters that were assigned to me by my school’s token libertarian political science professor. I assumed I had accurately interpreted its message. The three chapters I read were full of highlights and great quotes about the importance of the individual. But with all the other books out there in the world, why was finishing this one book so important?

Hayek makes it clear that this path refers to society’s “progressive” rejection of individualism.

It was not until my current mentor called me out on my inability to follow through on one of the most economically relevant books of all time, that I realized that I had robbed myself of an education by not finishing Hayek’s important work.

As a matter of millennial pride and also wanting to reclaim the knowledge I foolishly pushed aside as an undergrad student, I decided to dedicate the next sixteen days to both reading and liveblogging The Road to Serfdom.

The Individual Built the Modern World

Proponents of laissez faire capitalism and libertarian thinkers alike constantly throw around the phrase,” the road to serfdom.” And while most understand its general negativity towards socialism, the phrase is so ingrained in liberty speak that few often take the time to really explore what Hayek was trying to tell us.

In the book’s opening chapter, “The Abandoned Road,” Hayek makes it clear that this path refers to society’s “progressive” rejection of individualism. More importantly, he goes on to describe how this rejection of the sanctity of the individual has, and will continue to have, negative impacts on the society.

For a period of time, the western world had flourished under the 19th-century ideals of free market capitalism. For the first time in history, an individual was allowed to follow his own desired path without the status of his birth holding him back. All he needed was an idea and the ambition needed to make that idea a reality.

As a result we saw a revolution in thought and an industrial revolution incomparable to anything the world had ever experienced. In fact, even with the advent of the internet, the world has still never progressed quite as dramatically as it did during this laissez faire revolution.

And while this period brought the world the wisdom of Adam Smith and the rebellion of the American Revolution, it did not maintain its momentum of popularity as the 20th century approached.

As Hayek points out:

“We still believe that until quite recently we were governed by what are vaguely called nineteenth-century ideas or the principle of laissez faire…But although until 1931 England and America had followed only slowly on the path which others had led, even by then they had moved so far that only those whose memory goes back to the years before the last war know what a liberal world has been like.”

If in 1944, Hayek thought the world had already forsaken and forgotten true liberalism, I can scarcely imagine what he might say today. And it’s true that he was writing about a period of wartime economic planning both in the US and the UK. Prices and wages were controlled. Censorship was in place. Rationing and quotas governed the production and distribution of all essential goods and services. But even given all this, government consumed a far smaller degree of overall national production than today.

So far removed are we in 2017, that the individual is not even a consideration when contemplating economic policy. In fact, the “greedy” “selfish” individual is often the villain in modern economics, as he seems to always operate contrary to the whims of the collective. Now, terms like “individual mandates” are used to convey each person’s “social responsibility” to care for the collective.

As common as this anti-individualist sentiment has become, it wasn’t always this way. As Hayek reminds us in this opening chapter, the most tremendous strides towards human and economic progress were taken during a time when the individual was allowed to innovate and create without worrying about interference from the state on the grounds of protecting the greater good. But even though the positive implications of a pro-individualist society were proven by the innovations created during that time, society had still been steadily moving away from it.

“We are rapidly abandoning not the views merely of Cobden and Bright, of Adam Smith and Hume, or even of Locke and Milton, but one of salient characteristics of Western civilizations…Not merely the nineteenth- and eighteenth- century liberalism, but the basic individualism inherited by us from Erasmus and Montaigne, from Cicero and Tacitus, Pericles and Thucydides, is progressively relinquished.”

So far removed are we in 2017, that the individual is not even a consideration when contemplating economic policy.

Again, I have to wonder what Hayek might say if he were alive today and around to see how groupthink and collectivism have shaped our modern policies.

This chapter, then, sets the stage. He names liberalism as the system that gave birth to the greatest of human achievements ever seen in history. It was individualism that caused the most spectacular effect. If you understand that–and vast numbers today do not understand this–you are prepared to see how the abandonment of this system and idea leads to not only the unraveling of liberty but even what we call civilization.

So, yes, this book is a warning, not just against one party but all ideological positions that reject individualism for one or another version of the planning state.

Now onward to chapter two!

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Adeleke David: On Free Market and Equality

The following was one of the top essay entries in our 2017 Adam Smith Challenge on the topic “How Does Free Market Promote Equality According to Adam Smith?” 

In simple terms, free market is a market economy which is operates without undue and active interference by the government. Various authors have given various opinions on the principles of free market but the most detailed explanation was given by Adam Smith, who specialized in the field of economics.

His propositions on the principles of free-market can be traced to one of his books written in 1776 titled ‘The Wealth of Nations’. Instead of unnecessary interference by the government, Adam suggested ideas and set down various principles which according to him are guidelines to guarantee the success of a free market economy in achieving objectives such as the promotion of equal opportunities. Despite restricting government interference, he maintained that they can provide help in certain aspects in relation to performing normal function as the government such as the banking regulation.

How does free market promote equal opportunities?

One role the government is permitted to perform is to ensure everyone who is a consumer of public good or service should enjoy equal consumer satisfaction without the enjoyment of one causing deprivation of satisfaction for another. Therefore the free market economy advocates for selflessness, equality and fairness in the market. It can therefore promote equal opportunities by following the principles laid down by Adam Smith;

The Principle of Division of Labour: This provides equal chance for labourers to put their various professions into practice towards a particular objective and earn a living therefore ensuring a balance in the society. Sometimes it has to do with the use of invented machineries to carry out a job required. This means the opportunity is also extended to the inventors and not just the labourers physically at work.

The Principle of Trade by Barter: This simply involves the exchange of goods or services between people to ensure all parties acquire equal amount of satisfaction based on the wants and needs of each person. It also provides an atmosphere to explore the skills of one another.

The Principle of payment for government services based on ability: This can be in form of imposition and payment of tax to ensure the provision of good roads and other infrastructure. Good roads would benefit the members of the society generally and serve as a means of transporting goods and rendering services by traders. This therefore ensures equal opportunities for all traders in the market.

The principle of payment for government services based on utility: Here, the government charge based on the usage by consumers. It simply means the amount paid by consumers is directly proportional to the benefit enjoyed. This ensures equality and fairness in the society.

Free market should be adopted by various countries as it promotes the economy of a country if the guidelines of Adam Smith are followed. Taking Chile as an example, free market economy indeed promotes equal opportunities.

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The Core of Liberty Is Economic Liberty

By Deirdre McCloskey

Since the rise during the late 1800s of socialism, New Liberalism, and Progressivism it has been conventional to scorn economic liberty as vulgar and optional—something only fat cats care about. But the original liberalism during the 1700s of Voltaire, Adam Smith, Tom Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft recommended an economic liberty for rich and poor understood as not messing with other peoples’ stuff.

Indeed, economic liberty is the liberty about which most ordinary people care. 

Adam Smith spoke of “the liberal plan of [social] equality, [economic] liberty, and [legal] justice.” It was a good idea, new in 1776. And in the next two centuries, the liberal idea proved to be astonishingly productive of good and rich people, formerly desperate and poor. Let’s not lose it.Well into the 1800s most thinking people, such as Henry David Thoreau, were economic liberals. Thoreau around 1840 invented procedures for his father’s little factory making pencils, which elevated Thoreau and Son for a decade or so to the leading maker of pencils in America. He was a businessman as much as an environmentalist and civil disobeyer. When imports of high-quality pencils finally overtook the head start, Thoreau and Son graciously gave way, turning instead to making graphite for the printing of engravings.

That’s the economic liberal deal. You get to offer in the first act a betterment to customers, but you don’t get to arrange for protection later from competitors. After making your bundle in the first act, you suffer from competition in the second. Too bad.

In On Liberty (1859) the economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill declared that “society admits no right, either legal or moral, in the disappointed competitors to immunity from this kind of suffering; and feels called on to interfere only when means of success have been employed which it is contrary to the general interest to permit—namely, fraud or treachery, and force.” No protectionism. No economic nationalism. The customers, prominent among them the poor, are enabled in the first through third acts to buy better and cheaper pencils.

Economic liberty, that is, is part of liberty. Of course.

Mussolini and Hitler won elections and were popular, while vigorously abridging liberties.

Indeed, economic liberty is the liberty about which most ordinary people care. True, liberty of speech, the press, assembly, petitioning the government, and voting for a new government are in the long run essential protections for all liberty, including the economic right to buy and sell. But the lofty liberties are cherished mainly by an educated minority. Most people—in the long run foolishly, true—don’t give a fig about liberty of speech, so long as they can open a shop when they want and drive to a job paying decent wages. A majority of Turks voted in favor of the rapid slide of Turkey after 2013 into neo-fascism under Erdoğan. Mussolini and Hitler won elections and were popular, while vigorously abridging liberties. Even a few communist governments have been elected—witness Venezuela under Chavez.The protagonist of Forever Flowing by Vasily Grossman (1905–1964), the only example of a successful Stalinist writer who converted wholly to anti-communism, declares that “I used to think liberty was liberty of speech, liberty of the press, liberty of conscience. Here is what it amounts to: you have to have the right to sow what you wish to, to make shoes or coats, to bake into bread the flour ground from the grain you have sown, and to sell it or not sell it as you wish; . . . to work as you wish and not as they order you.”

The blessed Adam Smith was outraged by interferences in 1700s Britain in the right of workingmen to move freely to find profitable work. “The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. To hinder him from employing this . . . in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbor, is a plain violation of this most sacred property.” Not as they order you.

And economic liberty, surprisingly, has massively enriched the world in goods and services. How much? In 1800 the income per person of a country like Sweden or Japan, expressed in 2018 prices, was about $3 a day. Now it is over $100 day, a 3,200 percent increase. Not one hundred percent or even two hundred percent, but thirty-two hundred percent. The enrichment was not a factor of two, as had been routine from time to time in earlier spurts, such as the glory of Greece or the prosperity of Song China, to fall back to $3 a day. It was a factor of thirty-three. No starvation. Taller people. Doubled life expectancy. Bigger houses. Faster transport. Higher education. If you doubt it, see the late Hans Rosling’s startling videos at Gapminder.

We became rich by giving ordinary people their economic liberty.

The usual explanations of the Great Enrichment from economists and historians don’t compute. Accumulation of capital or the extractions of empire were not the causes. Ingenuity was, and the ingenuity was caused in turn by a new liberty after 1800. The liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice made masses of people bold–first the free and wealthy men, then poor men, then former slaves, then women, then gays, then handicapped, then, then, then. Make everyone free, it turned out (the experiment had never been tried before on such a scale), and you get masses and masses of people inspired and enabled to have a go. “I contain multitudes,” sang the poet of the new liberty. And he did. He and his friends had a go at steam engines and research universities and railways and public schools and electric lights and corporations and open source engineering and containerization and the internet. We became rich by giving ordinary people their economic liberty.And now the “we” has extended far beyond its heartland in northwestern Europe. China after 1978 and India after 1991 began to abandon the illiberal European theory of socialism, devised in the middle of the 1800s and exported by the 1970s to a third of the globe. The result of turning towards economic liberalism was that the annual growth of goods and services per person available to the poorest in China and India rose from its socialist level of 1 percent a year, and sometimes negative, to 7 to 12 percent per year. At such rates, it will take only two or three generations for both countries to have European standards of living. Such a prospect for this four in ten of humans is no pipe dream. Similar enrichments were achieved over a similar span in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, with other startling success stories for new liberalism and a reasonably honest government in Ireland and Botswana.

An economically illiberal government can, of course, borrow from countries honoring liberty. The USSR did from 1917–1989, for example, and for a long time even many economists in the West believed its fairy tale that Central Planning Worked. When communism fell in 1989 we discovered decisively that planning did not work, not for the economy or the environment or for other liberties. Singapore is sometimes cited as an example of intelligent tyranny. And so is China, dominated still by an elite of communist party members. Both, however, practice substantial economic liberty, despite their lamentable practice of jailing political opponents.

And enrichment, in the end, leads to demands for all liberties, political as much as the economic liberties, as it did in Taiwan and South Korea. Enriched people will not long put up with serfdom. And anyway the average record of tyrannies is economically disastrous, such as in Zimbabwe, next door to prosperous Botswana, or for that matter in the long and dismal history of illiberalism worldwide from the invention of agriculture down to 1800.

The ethical habits of commerce are expressed daily in the way an American shopkeeper greets his customer: “How can I help you?”

The Christian gospel says properly, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The claim against economic liberty has always been that even if we gain the world in goods, we lose our souls. We are told from the radical left that free exchange is intrinsically evil. Any extension will merely extend the evil. From the radical right, we are told that free exchange is ignoble compared with the glories of rank and war. But the radical left and right, and also the middle complaining about “consumerism,” are mistaken. The evidence is that economic liberty does not corrupt us, but rather makes us rather virtuous as well as very rich. It enriches in both senses, material and spiritual.For one thing, mutually advantageous exchange is not the worst ethical school. It is better than the violent pride of aristocrats or the violent insolence of bureaucrats. And in economic liberalism, the human desire to excel is provided millions of honorable paths, from model railway building to show business, as against in illiberal societies the narrow path to eminence at the court or politburo or army. We do not lose our souls in commerce, but cultivate them. The military, admired nowadays even in liberal societies, is commended daily for its “service.” But every economic act among consenting adults is service. The ethical habits of commerce are expressed daily in the way an American shopkeeper greets his customer: “How can I help you?”

The upshot? The concert halls and museums of well-to-do countries are full, the universities are flourishing, and the seeking of the transcendent, if not in the established churches, is expanding. One cannot attend much to the transcendent of art or science or baseball or family or God when bent over in a paddy field from dawn to dusk.

Protection of existing jobs has created worldwide a massive and politically explosive unemployment of youths.

The best way to make people bad and poor is the illiberality of communism and fascism, and even the slow if sweet socialism of over-regulation. Women among the theocratic despots of Saudi Arabia are quartered at home, unable to flourish so much as driving an automobile. The economic nationalism of the new Alt-Right is impoverishing, and anyway closes us to ideas from the wide world. If betterment is slowing in the United States—a widely held if doubtful claim—we need the betterment coming from newly enriching countries such as China or India, not cutting ourselves off to “protect jobs” at home. Protectionist logic would have us make everything in Illinois or Chicago or our local street. Breakfast cereal. Accordions. Computers. It is childishly silly as economics, though stirring as nationalism.At the heart of communism and fascism, and the regulating impulse from the middle of the spectrum of governmental compulsion, is massively messing with other people’s stuff. In the United States, over one thousand occupations require licenses from the government. Opening a new hospital requires the existing hospitals to grant a certificate of need. In Tennessee, if you wish to open a new furniture moving company—two men and a truck—you are required by law to ask permission of the existing moving companies. Protection of existing jobs has created worldwide a massive and politically explosive unemployment of youths. One-quarter of French people under 25 and out of schooling are unemployed. It’s worse in South Africa.

Yet true and humane liberals are not anarchists (Greek an-archos, no ruler). One can admit that it can be good to abridge economic liberty a little to the extent of taxing the well-to-do to give a hand up to the poor, such as publicly financed education. No serious argument there—Smith and Mill and even Thoreau agreed. (True, big government routinely gives also a hand up to the rich and powerful, such as protections for farmers in the U.S. and the Common Market. Big governments follow the nasty version of the Golden Rule, namely, those who have the gold, rule.) And one can admit that if the Canadians invade the United States, economic liberty might usefully be abridged for the duration, if prudent for defense. No argument there, either. (Yet big governments routinely break the peace for glorious conquests. Fear those Canadians.)

Better keep the government leashed.

The solution, liberals believe, is to restrict the power of government, even when the government is popular. Fascism often and communism sometimes, unhappily, are popular. Moderate versions of both, in nationalism and socialism, are very popular, until they go wrong. People favor for the nonce the alleged glory of governmental aggressions against foreigners (see Europe in August 1914) and the alleged free lunches of governmental control of the economy (see Venezuela in August 2017).Better keep the government leashed. Of the 190 or so governments in the world ranked in honesty from New Zealand at the top to North Korea at the bottom one might generously take the top 30 as adequately honest for the task. Spain is the marginal case. Britain and the United States qualify. Italy, ranked 75th, just above Vietnam, does not. But the top 30 moderately honest governments serve merely 13 percent of the world’s population. That is to say, 87 percent of the world is governed corruptly and incompetently, by a relaxed standard of goodness. The calculation shows why the optimism among amiable people on the left and among not so amiable people on the right about extending the illiberal powers of government is naïve. Thoreau wrote, in true liberal style, “I heartily accept the motto,—‘That government is best which governs least,’ and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.”

Yes, with a few modest exceptions.

This essay will appear in a volume for the Renew Democracy Initiative. 

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How Prices Promote Peace

By Matthew McCaffrey

Donald Trump’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan makes it necessary to once again stress the value of peace and the importance of rejecting US militarism and imperialism. Yet it also provides an opportunity to think about the foundations of a truly peaceful society, and to reaffirm a basic social truth: no institutions more effectively promote peace than the institutions of the market economy.

Cooperating not Expropriating

Peace begins at home, or rather, it begins wherever you and I decide it does: at any time and place we realize that the best way to improve our lives is to cooperate rather than to brutalize each other.

Trade allows us to benefit from our different values, while hurting no one.

As economists like Ludwig von Mises point out, this realization is actually the foundation of human social relations. It also explains why we establish social bonds through trade: we recognize, first, that we each possess resources and skills that are less valuable to us than others that we hope to acquire, and second, that other people value things in just the opposite way. Trade then allows us to benefit from our different values, while hurting no one. It is an act of peace, one reason why it’s no surprise that Mises refers to the moment after exchange as a “state of rest” – including an absence of conflict.

Voluntary exchange is thus a rebuke to violence and war-making: it reveals to each of us, in a personal way, that increasing our own welfare means cooperating, not expropriating.

Prices are a social recognition of this deeper fact. They tacitly acknowledge that many individuals have foregone violence and realized the benefits of cooperation and trade, so much so that they can establish between them an objective estimate of the social worth of the things we hold dear: a price.

Eventually, a vast network of individual exchanges creates the price system, a gigantic engine for improving the welfare of all members of society. This engine works 24 hours a day to overcome the greatest cause of conflict among human beings: scarcity.

The Struggle over Scarce Resources

Property, exchange, and the price system enable us to put aside our conflicts.

Scarcity presents seemingly intractable problems: how can we thrive in a world where human wants outstrip the resources available to satisfy them? How can we ensure that the goods and services we produce will get to the people who need them most?

Prices are the answer, and the price system works from moment to moment to appraise and allocate countless scarce resources over which we no longer have to fight.

Property, exchange, and the price system enable us to put aside our conflicts. In fact, when prices can’t be established because property rights are unclear – as in the tragedy of the commons – the result is a desperate conflict over scarce resources as each person tries to exploit a “free” good.

Similarly, price controls prohibit buyers and sellers from agreeing on a way to mutually benefit. Inevitably, someone leaves the market unsatisfied. In fact, price floors and ceilings cause conflict by eliminating exchange and replacing it with rationing. Without prices, producers and consumers arbitrarily discriminate, thereby creating special privileges for certain individuals and groups.

For example, landlords of rent-controlled apartments might choose tenants based on their racial characteristics rather than those who need housing the most. Similarly, faced with increasing minimum wage rates, fast food restaurants hire college students instead of workers from less wealthy or educated backgrounds who more urgently need a job. Inevitably, the non-privileged groups start to resent the beneficiaries of discrimination, and social conflict is the result.

Non-Market Goods

The lack of prices for such “goods” reveals that they’re nothing of the sort.

Importantly, this effect works across borders as well, as domestic producers and unions reap the benefits of trade barriers and immigration controls at the expense of foreign workers. This kind of exploitation sows the seeds of economic and, eventually, military conflict. Allowing prices to exist for foreign goods and labor is, therefore, a vital step toward achieving global peace.

For that reason, we should also be deeply skeptical about the production of any weapons or military technologies that have no market applications – and no prices – in a free economy. The reason is simple: the lack of prices for such “goods” reveals that they’re nothing of the sort. Their purpose is to destroy life, not improve it.

Seeing prices emerge and change in the marketplace should be a cause for celebration just as much as the sight of a soldier laying down his weapons. Both are victories for humanity, but prices especially reflect a deep commitment on the part of many people to choose cooperation over conflict. In that sense, it’s not much of an exaggeration to declare: Blessed are the price-makers.

Republished from FEE.org

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Twelve Economic Concepts Everyone Should Know

By Richard N. Lorenc


When I tell people that I work at the Foundation for Economic Education, they sometimes ask: “What economic ideas should people understand?”

We at FEE have thought about this quite a lot for our articles, courses, seminars, and videos. We have distilled “economic thinking” into 12 key concepts. The following list has guided us internally for a few years, and I figure it’s now time to share it with the world.

1. Gains from trade: In any economic exchange, freely chosen, both parties benefit–at least in their own minds.

2. Subjective value: The value of any good or service is determined by the individual human mind.

3. Opportunity cost: Nothing is free, and the cost of anything is what you give up to get it.

4. Spontaneous order: Society emerges not from top-down intention or planning but from individuals’ actions that result in unplanned outcomes for the whole.

5. Incentives: Individuals act to maximize their own reward.

6. Comparative advantage: Cooperation between individuals creates value when a seller can produce a given item or service at a lower cost than the buyer would spend to produce it himself.

7. Knowledge problem: No one person or group knows enough to plan (and force) social outcomes, because information necessary for social order is distributed among its members and revealed only in human choice.

8. Seen and Unseen: In addition to the tangible and quantifiable effects, there are quite often invisible costs and unmet opportunities to any action or policy.

9. Rules matter: Institutions influence the decisions individuals make. For example, property rights extend from the reality of scarcity which demands that ownership must be vested in individuals and not a collective.

10. Action is purposeful: Each person makes choices with the intention of improving his or her condition.

11. Civil society: Voluntary association permits people of all backgrounds to interact peaceably, create value, cultivate personal character, and build mutual trust.

12. Entrepreneurship: Acting on an opportunity to gather underused, misused, or undiscovered resources and ideas to create value for others.

You might think about all the ways and places these principles appear–as you shop, socialize, and plan your future. As we like to say, economics is everywhere!

Republished from FEE.org

Richard N. Lorenc

Richard N. Lorenc is the Chief Operating Officer of FEE and serves as managing director of FEE’s Youth Education & Audience Research (“YEAR”) project to develop and promote new content and distribution techniques for free-market ideas.

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New South African Airways bailout package shows government is not committed to transformation

By Martin Van Staden

With low economic growth prospects, ever-increasing unemployment and destitution, government appears to be more concerned with the useless prestige and status that comes with our national airline, than the wellbeing of the South African people.

In mid-July, EWN reported finance minister Malusi Gigaba saying that “too much money has been invested in cash-strapped South African Airways (SAA) in the form of guarantees and bailouts” and that government was going to seriously try to waste no more resources on “inefficient state-owned entities”. In an about-face, Gigaba now says that Treasury is considering a R13 billion bailout for the national carrier.

Proposing such a bailout in the midst of a tax shortfall is evidence of government’s deep-seated contempt for the people of South Africa and a preoccupation with satisfying its short-term and short-sighted ambitions. Its intention to introduce more and more taxes to finance programmes like the National Health Insurance (NHI) is mindboggling, let alone the proposal made earlier this year that, in addition to television licences, it would consider requiring licenses for other devices to boost revenue for the national broadcaster. The Davis Tax Committee too is considering increasing wealth taxes.

These desperate attempts to get its hands on more revenue are unnecessary in the face of the most obvious solution – significant tax transformation – and dangerous, in that it is unlikely that businesses, especially small ones, can survive for much longer in such an environment. Companies like General Motors and AngloAmerican already have either left our shores or are in the process of reducing their investments.

ANC MP Pinky Kekana proposes that, to help our national carrier, government intervene and give to SAA air routes currently operated by other, profitable airlines. For her, this would be radical economic transformation. By what logic could forcing the productive and efficient private sector, which creates unquantifiable wealth for millions of people every minute of every day, to yield to the ineffective and bloated dinosaurs of the public sector radically transform anything? South Africans already find more affordable and higher-quality travelling products with foreign airlines. Even domestically, it is estimated that SAA contributes less than a quarter of commercial air travel.

If government wants more money, it should look to decreasing taxes and repealing regulations across the board to allow significant economic growth to occur. In turn, more South Africans will become taxpayers and contribute to the national purse. But, even if this should happen, the national purse should not be an ATM for state companies that have proven time and time again that they are unable to stand on their own two feet in the market. Both SAA and Eskom have been given repeated opportunities to become profitable, but each ‘second chance’ ends with yet another ‘turnaround’ strategy. These companies are lost causes which South African taxpayers are propping up with no benefit to themselves, and certainly none to the poor.

Radical economic transformation would be to get rid of wealth sucking, economy strangling state-owned enterprises that are firmly rooted in the social engineering logic of the apartheid regime to fulfil, as the first apartheid labour minister Ben Schoeman explained, “State control on a large scale” that replaces personal responsibility with a “system of State responsibility.”

There will be no radical economic transformation while government and state-owned enterprises get first dibs on the hard-earned produce of the people. The people have a natural right to keep what they earn, and government is under an obligation to spend what it takes from the people wisely. What we are seeing now, however, is a commitment by government to itself, and not to the people.

 

Republished from AfricanLiberty.org

Martin van Staden is Legal Researcher at the Free Market Foundation and Academic Programs Director of Students For Liberty in Southern Africa.

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Money Is the Real Social Contract

By Baudoin Collard

Despite major inconsistencies, the social contract theory remains one of the most prominent founding myths of our societies. Is it possible to revisit this dogma to correct its deficiencies?

The social contract theory finds its origins during the Enlightenment era in the 18th century. In the context of challenging royal institutions, philosophers like Rousseau and Hobbes sought to answer the following questions: How are societies born? Why do humans decide to live together? Where do governments derive their legitimacy?

According to Rousseau, an implicit contract binds men together to form a society. Through this contract, men relinquish some of their freedom to the state. In return, the state provides justice and security. This way, the general welfare is protected from special interests through the legislature, elected by the people.

The social contract theory has had a major influence on Western philosophy. As attractive as it is, the theory suffers from fundamental flaws.

First, no one has ever signed such a contract. One can argue that elections represent a tacit renewal of the contract. But in this case, abstention should be considered. And what about countries like Belgium where voting is compulsory?

Second, history teaches us that human societies emerged well before the institutions that govern them. It is the society that begets the institutions and not the reverse. Moreover,  these institutions have been set up in bloody wars and revolutions.

Lastly, according to Rousseau, since the parliament represents the people, the minority must accept any decisions taken by the majority in the name of a nebulous “general interest.” In the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville had already mentioned the risk associated with this belief. Such a system drifts into a tyranny of the majority.

If we looked closer, we would see an institution inseparable from the human society that could perfectly fulfill this role of the social contract: money.

Is Money a Social Contract?

Money is proper to man. Historically, no society could develop without the support of some form of money. Conversely, the concept of money is meaningless when taken out of its social context. It is from its acceptance by users that money derives its legitimacy and value. Men voluntarily adopt money because they benefit from it.

By facilitating exchanges, money allows specialization — the source of new technological developments. As a store of value, it allows users to save, which is the source of investment and protection against the hazards of life. Investment and technological progress both generate growth. This is the fundamental reason why men unite: in order to draw greater benefit from each other’s labor.

Currency Manipulation

If money is the cement that binds society together, what happens when this cement disintegrates? The German hyperinflationbetween 1921 and 1924 is certainly one of the most tragic examples of monetary collapse, but it is far from an isolated case.

Given its critical role, it may be tempting for a minority to manipulate the currency to its advantage. If the phenomenon is not new, it has also become more complex over time.

An early example occurred with the use of minted coins.

Originally, coins ensured the weight and quality of the currency. But gradually, the right to mint coins has become a state monopoly. This has allowed governments to control currency and extract a rent (seigniorage and sometimes debasement).

The invention of the banknote was a major technological evolution. Originally introduced to facilitate increased trade, banknotes have gradually become a monopoly of the power in place. As a striking example, Napoleon Bonaparte gave the monopoly of printing bank notes to the Bank of France, of which he was a major shareholder.

The creation of central banks is the logical continuation of the state’s growing influence over money. Under the pretext of stabilizing money issuance and protect depositors from banking crises, the creation of central banks actually greatly facilitated state indebtednesswar funding, and ultimately inflation.

Speaking of inflation, here is precisely what Keynes said about it:

By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some.”

From Social Contract to Social Control

But inflation is not the only stab to the social contract of money. From the moment the money is imposed by the government rather than freely chosen by citizens, it loses its legitimacy. Initially acting as a social contract, money in state hands becomes a tool of social control. It allows a minority to exploit their privileged position for profit and power.

The states impose the use of their currency in more or less subtle ways. In the most authoritarian countries like China, the currency is subject to strict controls.

Exchange rates are set by the government and capital movements are tightly monitored. In the so-called democratic countries, the currency is imposed through legislation and numerous regulations. For example, the official currency is the only one allowed for the payment of fines and taxes. Banking and insurance regulations require individuals to invest a proportion of assets in state bonds, to inform the government of all transactions above a certain amount, etc.

In terms of social control by the currency, governments can be very creative. One example is the introduction of price and wage controls. Another example is the introduction (and increasingly pervasive use) of the food stamp program.

A more pernicious threat now hangs over the money with the disappearance of cash so desired by our governments. The abandonment of cash threatens to increase our dependence on the banking system. It also increases the stranglehold of states over their citizenry by facilitating the establishment of taxation on savings accounts or even an outright confiscation of bank accounts, as was the case in Cyprus.

Freeing the Money

All monies do not fulfill their social contract equally. Among fiat currencies, large differences exist, depending on the objectives of central banks and economic policies. So if we compare the consumer price index (a proxy for inflation), we observe that the US Dollar has lost about 54 percent of its purchasing power over the last 30 years.

The Swiss Franc saw a decline in purchasing power when it was limited to 31 percent and then 14 percent for the Japanese Yen. At the same time, the currency’s purchasing power fell by more than 99 percent in Mexico, Turkey, and in many countries of the former Soviet Union.

Gold and precious metals enjoy a lasting credibility because these commodities are difficult to manipulate. Precious metals have also provided an effective hedge against inflation and other monetary turpitudes throughout history. Gold is still a reserve currency of choice for central banks.

Finally, a new form of currency has recently emerged: the cryptographic currencies among which Bitcoin is undoubtedly the most famous. Bitcoin appeared in 2009, at the height of the subprime crisis and bank bailouts by the taxpayers. If they have often aroused disbelief in their infancy, these cryptocurrencies now enjoy a combined capitalization largely exceeding $100 billion.

More fundamentally, cryptocurrencies are the perfect illustration of the competitive bidding of private currencies. This is similar to what was proposed by Friedrich Hayek in his book “The Denationalization of Money.” 

Since the use of these currencies is free, their value fluctuates according to the interest they generate and the resulting demand. Their course is closely linked to the services they can provide, as a means of payment, and their credibility, as a store of value. The proliferation of these cryptographic currencies is a full-scale laboratory experiment for the future of money.

Money Guarantees a Free Society

Money, even more so than democracy, embodies the essence of the social contract. Its legitimacy comes from its acceptance, freely chosen by all users. 

The fundamental role of money in exchange explains its catalytic action in the seeding of the development of human societies, long before the emergence of democratic institutions. Finally, currency manipulation inevitably causes the decline of a society,as democratic as it may be.

Nothing better sums up money that Ayn Rand’s quote:

“Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue.”

Money is a tremendous source of emancipation for the society. It promotes cooperation and peaceful exchanges between humans, no matter their views, gender, origin or preferences. It is the conductor that imperceptibly regulates the human action.

Conversely, anyone who aims to suppress money should be prepared to substitute it by a planned economy with cohorts of bureaucrats who impose by force. Anyone who denounces the dictatorship of money should recall that the worst tyrannies are those where citizens were deprived of their currency. And if money is regularly accused of being the root of all evil, it is all too often the victim of those who control it. Rather than blaming the money, let’s blame those who corrupt it.

Perfect currencies do not exist. As the brainchild of fallible humans, monies are bound to constantly face primal temptations. Failing to find such an illusory ideal, the freedom to choose currencies is the best guarantee of having sound money in a free society.

 

Republished from FEE.org

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The Regulatory State Is the Enemy of Economic Mobility

By David Boaz

Why are Americans less likely to move to better opportunities than they used to be? The Wall Street Journal reports:

When opportunity dwindles, a natural response—the traditional American instinct—is to strike out for greener pastures. Migrations of the young, ambitious and able-bodied prompted the Dust Bowl exodus to California in the 1930s and the reverse migration of blacks from Northern cities to the South starting in the 1980s.

Yet the overall mobility of the U.S. population is at its lowest level since measurements were first taken at the end of World War II, falling by almost half since its most recent peak in 1985.

In rural America, which is coping with the onset of socioeconomic problems that were once reserved for inner cities, the rate of people who moved across a county line in 2015 was just 4.1%, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. That’s down from 7.7% in the late 1970s.

One particular problem with today’s immobility is that people find themselves in areas where jobs are dwindling and pay tends to be lower. Why don’t they move to where the jobs are? This comprehensive article for the Journal by Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg points to a few factors:

For many rural residents across the country with low incomes, government aid programs such as Medicaid, which has benefits that vary by state, can provide a disincentive to leave. One in 10 West Branch [Mich.] residents lives in low-income housing, which was virtually nonexistent a generation ago.

And then there are regulations that discourage mobility:

While small-town home prices have only modestly recovered from the housing market meltdown, years of restrictive land-use regulations have driven up prices in metropolitan areas to the point where it is difficult for all but the most highly educated professionals to move….

Another obstacle to mobility is the growth of state-level job-licensing requirements, which now cover a range of professions from bartenders and florists to turtle farmers and scrap-metal recyclers. A 2015 White House report found that more than one-quarter of U.S. workers now require a license to do their jobs, with the share licensed at the state level rising fivefold since the 1950s.

Brink Lindsey wrote about both land-use regulations and occupational licensing as examples of “regressive regulation”—regulatory barriers to entry and competition that work to redistribute income and wealth up the socioeconomic scale—in his Cato White Paper, “Low-Hanging Fruit Guarded by Dragons: Reforming Regressive Regulation to Boost U.S. Economic Growth.”

The Journal notes that:

The lack of mobility has become a drag on the entire U.S. economy.

“We’re locking people out from the most productive cities,” says Peter Ganong, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Chicago who studies migration. “This is a force that widens the urban-rural divide.”

Ganong made similar points in a Cato Research Brief, “Why Has Regional Income Convergence in the U.S. Declined?

Declining mobility hurts U.S. innovation and economic growth and widens the rural-income culture gap. Government regulation plays a major role in declining mobility. But as Lindsey noted, those regulations are “guarded by dragons”—”the powerful interest groups that benefit from the status quo, all of which can be counted upon to defend their privileges tenaciously.” Despite the potential for agreement by right, left, and libertarian policy analysts on the problems with regressive regulation, all those wonks together may be no match for organized dentists, barbers, massage therapists, and homeowners who perceive that they benefit from keeping others out.

 

Reprinted from FEE.

David Boaz

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and the author of The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedomand the editor of The Libertarian Reader.

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World Youth Day: The Concept of Youth Investment, Peace and Security

By Ugbabe Adagboyi Damian

Every year since 1999, the United Nations has continued to celebrate the youths all over the world. Eighteen years after, the youths have continued to gain increasing recognition as agents of change in the society – since they have very important roles to play in deterring and resolving conflicts, and are key constituents in ensuring the success of both peacekeeping and peace building efforts. Hence, their inclusion in the peace and security agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development committed to fostering peaceful and inclusive societies and affirmed “Sustainable development cannot be realised without peace and security”. Goal 16 aims to ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. The World Programme of Action for Youth, which provides a policy framework and practical guidelines to improve the situation of young people, also encourages “promoting the active involvement of youth in maintaining peace and security”.

For the purpose of achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda, it is considerable to adopt a conventional definition of youth; assess the concept of youth investment and how it can ensure the success of both peacekeeping and peace building; as well as suggest ways the incentives tailored towards youth investment can make meaningful impact on them.

According to Wikipedia, The terms youth, teenager, kid, and young person are interchanged, often meaning the same thing, but they are occasionally differentiated. Youth can be referred to as the time of life when one is young. This involves childhood, and the time of life which is neither childhood nor adulthood, but rather somewhere in between fourteen and twenty-one years of age.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 defines a child as any human person who has not reached the age of eighteen years.

To bring home the definition, we shall adopt the definition of the African Youth Charter; that a youth is any human person who falls in the age bracket of fifteen and thirty-five. However, the task that lies before us should make us think in line with Robert Kennedy that, “the world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease”.

The concept of youth empowerment and youth investment are interchanged, often implying the same thing. On the contrary, youth empowerment is a form of political heart-buy of youths for continuity. Most African politicians and their governments have bastardized the concept and have used it to manoeuvre their immediate social environment. Many of them believe that empowerment mean to purchase and distribute either of, motorcycles, tricycles (popularly called “Keke” in Nigeria), wheelbarrows, hairdryers, Knapsack sprayers, and stipends in form of social transfer benefits, etc. In as much as this is a plus to the society, there are little or no evidence that the beneficiaries expressed any form of predominance of courage over timidity; developed a superior state of mind or have any quality imagination that can spur innovation to permanently lift them out of poverty. It is evident that many of the beneficiaries have no appetite for adventure as they are limited to what they know and do, and are hardly proud of their skills since they remain restless and agitated. They also develop high sense of entitlement and feel marginalized; believing that what they have received can only keep them surviving each moment and not living in each moment.

The concept of youth investment sees beyond tenure. It is a concept that seeks to improve young people’s outcomes through better funding opportunities, programmes and initiatives that build the capability and resilience of young people so they have the skills and confidence to engage positively in, and contribute to, their societies. These outcomes support increased educational achievement, greater employability, improved health and less state intervention. The economic and social landscape of the world is rapidly changing with the developments in technology affecting the way we think, live and work, the young people forming about 70% of the African population need to acquire the digital, entrepreneurial and enterprise skills to be participate and contribute to the social and economic growth of their societies.

 This concept has three key strategies: leadership development, volunteering and mentoring. These can be achieved little or no stress but with the political will power to grow the economy and sustain peace and security.

The following key components of the strategies includes; maximising scarce resources through collaborating with corporate, non-governmental, and other government organization, improving data collection and analysis to enable funding based on knowledge of what works and for which group of young people, a clear mission statement and continuous appraisal of outcomes, and targeting investment to where it will have the most impact.

Therefore, if we intentionally adopt these strategies, guided by its component; and ensuring accountability, integrity, and inclusiveness we can build and shape a peaceful and secured Africa.

 

This piece was originally published in AfricanLiberty.org

Ugbabe Adagboyi Damian

Twitter @ugbabeD

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